James Curtis
James Curtis acoustic mandola, left-handed. $1,500.
James Curtis (now going by the name James Island) is a talented and idiosyncratic luthier based in Port Townsend, Washington. He claims that he never builds the same instrument twice—so if you see a Curtis that you like, you'd better grab it. There won't be another.
     This delightful flattop guitar-bodied mandola was built in 2004. It was built for a right-handed player but is currently set up left-handed. For now, I think I'll leave it as a lefty in case there's a southpaw out there looking for a mandola. The original nut and bridge are in the case, and the reconversion job won't be too taxing. (If it doesn't sell as a lefty I'll have it converted back and relist it.)
     The mandola features a spruce top, with back and sides of beautifully quilted maple with a little birdseye figure. The 2-piece back has a narrow 3-ply center strip. The neck is curly maple while the headplate is quilted. Ebony heelcap and fretboard, with side markers, 14 jumbo frets, and an MOP leaf inlay at the 12th fret. Black single-ply binding on the top and back, with a narrow inked red stripe just inside the binding. Both the lefty bridge and original righty bridge appear to be ebony, although they could be rosewood with a dark stain. Nickel Grover tuners, strap buttons, and standard 2-piece tailpiece.
     The soundhole is a free-form parallelogram with synthetic pearl decorations and an inked red outline. The soundboard's X bracing follows the lower contours of the soundhole. What may appear to be a truss rod cover is actually just a decoration. There is no adjustable truss rod, but the neck has a rather beefy profile and is perfectly straight.
      The scale length is 16 inches and the nut width is 1 3/8 inches. Condition is quite good for a 15-year-old instrument. There are some surface pits that look like pick wear. Most of them seem to be the result of right-hand playing, suggesting that the conversion is a recent one and that the mandola wasn't played much after being converted. It comes with a lightweight hard foam ukulele case that has been modified to accommodate the endpin strap button, but is otherwise a good fit.
     Tonally it's warm and throaty, with some tubbiness in the lower end, and quite loud. No pickup or electronics in this one ... it's entirely acoustic. Add a strap, see more photos, call 425/772-0231, or for more information. Case included. $1,500 plus shipping. 48-hour approval period.